Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Anthropology

Major Professor

Amy Z. Mundorff

Committee Members

Dawnie W. Steadman, Benjamin M. Auerbach, Darinka P. Mileusnic

Abstract

This dissertation examines the accuracy of the biological profile from forensic anthropology reports among 204 resolved and 284 unresolved skeletal cases at the medical examiners’ offices in New York City, NY; Harris County, TX; and Pima County, AZ. Current forensic anthropological methods used to estimate the biological profile are developed from skeletal reference collections conferring variable degrees of accuracy. Evolving standards for evidence and expert witness testimony have ushered in an era of robust statistical validation for forensic methods, yet accuracy rates are unknown in anthropological casework. Considering 40,000 sets of unidentified human remains persist in medical examiner’s offices in the United States, the purpose of this project is to provide the medicolegal community with vital statistics regarding the accuracy of the biological profile and identify trends among unresolved cases.

Ancillary to this goal is to identify inconsistencies between the antemortem reporting process and the results gleaned from the biological profile. Results suggest that antemortem descriptions of race are inconsistent with biological estimations of ancestry and efforts to improve antemortem descriptions of the missing should be pursued.

Results of the present study suggest the biological profile confers varying levels of accuracy among resolved casework. First, estimations of sex were correct in 100% of cases, ancestry estimation were correct in 99% of cases, age was correct in 89% of cases, and stature was correct in 73% of cases. Second, FORDISC was incorrect in 64% of resolved cases with 93% of those cases involving the Hispanic category. Third, antemortem stature records were largely absent suggesting stature has limited importance in resolving missing persons cases. Results also revealed a significant difference between the amounts of skeletal remains available for analysis among resolved and unresolved cases.

Overall, these results show that the biological profile performs well in resolved casework, but stature performs poorly for Hispanic individuals and also does not appear to be an important factor in identifications. Further, changes should be made in the missing persons reporting process to help accurately identify the race and ancestry of the missing.

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